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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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questions

So, back in April, I was interviewed…….

……….by Heather Kirchhoff for Girl Who Reads. I had lovely interactions with her via email, prior to the actual interview, and I appreciate the time she took to ask her questions, all of which I found to be thoughtful and enjoyable.

It was a privilege to do this, and I am grateful for her time.

You can find the interview here.

Excerpt: Untitled Fantasy Novel

My brother Angus was the better swordsman, but my arrow always held true and found its mark, even in the strongest wind. Father had always maintained that my eye, my sure hand with a bow, could easily bring down a charging bull. Angus would roll his eyes at such praise leveled at his younger sister, but it was just as precious to me as the charm Mum made us wear under our tunics….

And there it was, the reference of a charm worn by Amidelanne, the first woman archer to have ever made captain in the King’s Army of Talisierre.
I marked the page with a broken quill, shut the heavy tome with care and sat back in my chair with a sigh. It had taken me more than two months of painstaking research through the collected histories of Talisierre. The histories were a set of twenty volumes, each book more than two thousand pages of recorded events, written in a cramped hand.
I had finally found what I was looking for, that brief mention, in volume nineteen.
Leaning forward, I ignored the sudden aching protests of my muscles and snatched up my quill. Dipping it in ink, I reached for a fresh page of parchment. I made quick notes about what I’d found, the quill making soft, scratching noises as I wrote. The sound was soothing and I was soon lost in it.
A half hour passed before I finish, my hand aching. Folding the page into thirds, I tucked the slip into my knapsack. Scowling at volume nineteen of The Histories of Talisierre, I stood and, hefting the massive tome with both hands, walked back to the stacks. I replaced it with care back among its siblings, my fingers caressing the worn bindings of each volume, my thoughts drifting.
It wasn’t much, that reference, I thought. It seemed to be more of a throwaway comment. The charm had no other importance attached to it, in the eyes of the historians. Other than it was a gift from her mother, there was not even a description of it in Amidelanne’s own words.
And yet, legends had risen about this charm, this bit of magic worn around a young girl’s neck. A girl who became an archer in the King’s Army, then rose to the rank of captain. So it did have some meaning, both to the wearer and to the person who began the stories that surrounded it.
I reclaimed my seat and leaned back, my eyes drifting closed as my thoughts swirled, trying to make sense of the knot I had before me. How had these legends of a charm not described come about? Did it still exist? What sort of magic did it claim? And who wanted it badly enough to commit murder?

That was what bothered me most in my research – that someone willfully committed violence over what some would dismiss as mere stories.

 

***
Edited: This was previously published January 2015 on Hubpages.com in two parts, here and here. JJB

So, meeting the characters in my stories…….

………is a lot like meeting people in life. I get the first impressions of who they are by how they present themselves in their manner of dress, hair and grooming. As I get to know them better, I learn how they think, what their views are, their likes and dislikes, their sense of voice and style and personality.

Sometimes characters, like people, are hard to pin down until they actually show up. Some are mercurial. Some are as they seem to be and others are duplicitous. The last type usually ends up being the villain because, you know, villains require duplicity to achieve whatever goal they may have.

Case in point: My second book, ‘The Pike Horse’ (2012).
Because I don’t want to spoil the reveal for anyone who hasn’t yet read it, I won’t be identifying the character by name. In my book, one of the characters gains the trust of the narrator, Josie March, and proceeds to manipulate her reality before betraying her in an ugly and violent manner.
This particular character did not start out to be such a nasty piece of work. But the more I worked on the story, the more I became aware that he was not who he at first appeared to be. It was more an intuitive feeling that grew into a conscious realization.

In my Current Work In Progress, another character has gone through at least seven name changes. In addition to that, his nationality went from American to British, which altered his speech patterns. This, in turn, influenced his mannerisms and even his coloring went from blond to dark. All this occurred before he even showed up in the story. It came out of my notes as the story developed and I got to know the character’s motivations and his ethics from the point of view of other characters.

Having detailed biographies of your characters, right down to the time of birth, can be helpful. I often give my characters birth dates, which can have some influence on their perceptions of the world, but I don’t often put a lot of thought into it, unless absolutely necessary.

Case in point: My Current Work In Progress.
I specifically designed an historical timeline and a family tree for this story, to keep track of a particular family and which generation some members came from. A supernatural-themed story, I’ve worked out a system of magic that can be seen in my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls’ (pub. 2011; re-issued 2013).
I chose to have certain characters born in a month under a particular Zodiac sign that belongs to a specific element, which reflected their dominant skill. I’m only starting to see where this thread is leading and I’m agog with curiosity to see how it all plays out.

I actually prefer this not-knowing of my characters. I enjoy the discovery of how to get them into or out of situations that arise in the course of the story. It’s a completely organic process, where a thought will chase a thought and lead me to discover the answer that I’d been unaware I was looking for. To keep the discovery going, I keep a journal and jot down any questions that arise. There are always questions.
As I write and re-write, the questions will either change focus or be answered. I’ve always used the five W’s and one H of journalism to formulate these questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?), and they have served me very well.

Don’t be afraid to try any method in getting to know your characters, their wants and their goals. Borrow methods used by other authors and see if they work. Sometimes using another artistic method helps jog the writer’s block loose or opens a train of thought you hadn’t tried before. Don’t worry if one method doesn’t work for you. Find another and try that. Repeat as needed. Writing is a process and there is no one correct way to do it.

The only incorrect way to write is to not write.

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